Movie review: 'The Favourite'

Brad Keefe
Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone star in "The Favourite"

With “The Favourite,” Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has made what is likely his most accessible English-language film to date. That may not be saying much.

With 2015's “The Lobster,” Lanthimos created a darkly comedic dystopian love story set in a world in which single people were forced to find a romantic partner in 45 days or be turned into literal animals.

He followed that with 2017's “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” in which a surgeon and his family were forced to make challenging and dire decisions when a teenage boy's connection to the family turned sinister.

For his next trick, Lanthimos turns to … a period piece? Didn't see that one coming.

Nor did I expect to love it as much as I do, given that I'm generally not a fan of period pieces. But “The Favourite” has more laugh-out-loud moments, more sheer pop, and more great performances than any other movie of 2018.

The setting is early 18th-century England. The nation is at war with France, because, like, when wasn't it? Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne, but her frail health and mental disposition make her a malleable leader.

Her trusted friend, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), cares for the Queen's health while also wielding tremendous power and influence. Her ear is sought by many seeking to bend the will of the Queen.

But the unassuming arrival of a new servant named Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) introduces more chaos. As the Queen takes a liking to Abigail, a power struggle ensues.

OK, I realize this doesn't sound like a laugh riot. It's all in the execution, and Lanthimos, working from a fantastic script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, executes like a goddamn guillotine.

Watch the trailer for a good indication of the fast-paced farce in which “The Favourite” revels. The period itself sets up some sharp commentary on current events, but there's a sense of whimsy throughout. And, yes, plenty of dark humor.

The performances are essentially perfect. Colman's thin-skinned and over-reactive monarch seems to be channeling some fool who finds themselves wielding great power. I can't quite put my finger on it.

Weisz, reteaming with Lanthimos after “The Lobster,” is shrewd, efficient and hilarious. And Stone transforms from a naive peasant into her own power player.

Three of the best performances of the year. One of the best films. Period.

Opens Friday

5 stars out of 5

“The Favourite”